Having decided that it was unfair to ask anyone in the Fifth Form upwards to contribute a 'Week in the Life' article at this time of year, we asked possibly the busiest member of staff instead for a bit of an understanding of what her job entailed.
Clare White was appointed Examinations Officer in January 2011, taking over from Bob Kendall on his retirement in July 2011. Bob had been working here as a Maths master for many years, before taking on the (then part-time) additional role of Exams Officer in 1990, but the job has grown steadily since then.
To give an example of the size and complexity of the role, Clare rattled off a few facts and figures based on the first week of public exams this term (GCSEs and AS levels):
1,482 papers were sat during the week.
142 separate invigilation duties needed to be timetabled with, and carried out by, 78 members of teaching staff, and 12 external invigilators. All of them, obviously, have to be in the right place at the right time.
14 different rooms were used for exams that week.
5 members of the teaching staff are assistant exam officers - and Bob has dusted down his jacket and come out of retirement to help out too. Each paper is started by either an exam officer or a lead invigilator, who have to be fully briefed before each exam session. At the end of each one, scripts are returned to the Exams Office for collating, checking, and despatching via courier.
30 individual supervised lunches were arranged during the week. Inevitably, pupils will find that they have clashes in their exam timetable; when this happens, the pupil has to get collected by a member of staff immediately after their first exam, and kept out of contact with anyone else until they sit the next exam. Quite often, they will be taken to the library or a classroom before having a supervised lunch, and then escorted back to the exam hall to sit the paper that they had missed that morning. If they wish to do some last-minute revision for their second paper during the supervised period, any notes etc. that they want to look at need to be handed in before they sit their first exam.
80 packed lunches had to be given to pupils in the Ashton Theatre when GCSE French clashed with English Literature. The pupils then had to be escorted to the Gym, San or Library for their afternoon exam.
On that same day, our annual inspection from JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) took place - unannounced. The inspectors needed to see all the exam rooms and check our seating plans, access arrangements (extra time etc.) and school policies.
IT and a member of the Library staff help out. Pupils needing to use a laptop for their exams have to sit in a separate room. The staff set up each laptop, which is linked wirelessly to a printer in a neighbouring room - with a member of staff in both rooms. Pupils need to print out their work, which they have to check and sign.
IT also have to check that all the CDs needed for language listening exams are working correctly. They also provide technical back-up as necessary.
The San staff help out. One room in the San is set up as an exam room, for any pupils who are unwell. Pupils sustain last minute injuries, fall ill or have other personal circumstances which can make it necessary for special provisions to be put in place. This could involve organising a scribe or using a laptop if injuries prevent them from being able to write for themselves.
Although the Summer Term is the busiest one for our Exams Office, there are other peaks too - a lot of work is done in the few days leading up to the official publication of GCSE, AS and A2 Level results in August, after which requests for re-marks need to be put in and then processed - something that carries on well into the Michaelmas Term. Then there are the Oxbridge entry exams, other admissions tests including, for example, BMATs (BioMedical Admissions Tests, required by many universities as part of the application for medicine, veterinary science or biomedical sciences). Entries for the public exams in January need to be processed during the Michaelmas Term. In addition, our trial exams that take place in January for the Fifth Form and at the start of the summer term for the Sixth forms, have to be arranged. Later, the internal end of year exams for our Third and Fourth forms start just after the Summer half term exeat.
These are just some of the practicalities of organising examinations, but there is another aspect of the role of the Examinations Officer which is just as important. The public examinations are the culmination of years of work and preparation by the pupils. It can be a very stressful time, particularly when an unforeseen situation occurs for a student. It is essential we offer not only the correct advice, but also support and understanding to the pupil and/or parents to help calm situations. Our main aim is to give our pupils the best possible environment in which to demonstrate their true ability in the exam room.